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In a tendentious mess titled “Obama’s Last Play for Ethnic Identity Politics,” The National Review’s Mike Gonzalez claims MENA is “the new ethnic group created by the Obama administration to cobble together Americans with origins in the Middle East and North Africa.”
Yes, the stupid hurts, so let’s take a moment to explain: President Obama did not invent MENA. The people comprising the group known as MENA have been around for a long time; much longer than white people have been on the shores of North America, let alone had a chance to steal it from its Native American inhabitants.
MENA, you see, is an acronym, the result of putting two terms together: the “Middle East and North Africa,” and it describes very accurately the population of the Middle East and North Africa. Nothing to freak out about, right? Those people live there. We have to call them something.
In fact, if you look at another map, that of the Arab conquests, you see that the area covered by MENA pretty much matches the non-European portions of the Arab conquests. Methinks the NRO caught the scent of Islam in the air:
You can almost hear the panic in his voice as Gonzalez warns,
“According to proposals by the Office of Management and Budget, Mena may be on the 2020 census.”
Oh dear. It’s a “math Republicans do” thing. Or rather, math Republicans don’t do, because it calls for accurate math.
And it’s kind of a big deal. As the World Bank explains,
“With a population of 355 million and the vast majority of people living in middle-income countries, the MENA region came into the Arab Spring with multiple strengths, including a young and educated population, strong resource base, and economic resilience that helped it weather the 2008/9 global financial crisis.”
All told that’s about 6 percent of the Earth’s population.
So yeah. More people than live in the United States, about 325 million as I sit down to write this. And as the American Arab Institute points out, it’s hard to count how many Iraqi people, for example, live in the US when there is no term available to describe them:
“The Iraqi American community is one of the fastest growing populations of Americans with origins in the Middle East or North Africa, but it’s impossible to get an accurate number of how large the population actually is.”
And in fact, Iraqi Americans are undercounted. Far from it being a problem that these people aren’t being properly identified, the American Arab Institute points out that,
“The undercount, apart from stemming research on these communities, has severe consequences on access to certain services – from language assistance at polling places to the enforcement of equal employment opportunities – that are based on Census data.”
Sure, we could just call these people “white” or what have you, but we’d be hurting them if we did something like that.
It’s no wonder the National Review objects to having a term for them. If they are counted, they exist, and if there is one thing conservatives don’t like it’s the existence of people who aren’t white and Christian.
For Republicans, this is all about what they lament as “Identity politics,” a term originating in the 1970s that let groups marked, because of their identity, for oppression, to speak out against that oppression.
The irony of all this is that the election of Donald Trump saw the rise of white identity politics, with the important point being that white people only thought they were being oppressed because they mistook a loss of privilege as oppression.
It would be nice if we could just all self-identify as Americans, and when they want to claim racism doesn’t exist, that’s what conservatives do, except that what is really taking place is the oppression of minority groups, be they ethnic or religious or gender-based.
In a perfect world, one in which groups were not persecuted on account of their beliefs or their skin color or who they are attracted to, there would probably be no need for identity politics. But the real world doesn’t work that way and repeated Republican attempts to disenfranchise groups based on their identity (like black voters) is all the proof you really need.
Definitions are by their very nature problematic. We get that. We also need definitions. You know, the same definitions Republicans use to jury-rig voting districts so they can stay in office and permanently exclude liberal and progressives from governance as somehow illegitimate political ideologies. Or exclude Muslims from First Amendment protections as not really being a religion but an “ideology.”
Naturally, Gonzalez wants to blame all this on Obama, offering the ridiculous argument that, “the deep racial division which is so obvious at the end of Obama’s term is no accident. It is the legacy of a president who did much to foster it.”
Apparently understanding ethnic diversity is an evil somehow, but that is precisely what MENA underscores – the ethnic diversity of the region. All these people want is that identity to be recognized so that they can have the same opportunities as all other Americans.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.